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WI assembly speaker turns over emails to independent watchdog group

The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
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After a court order, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has handed over more than 10,000 emails related to the partisan review of the state's 2020 elections to the independent watchdog group American Oversight.

The probe, commissioned by Vos and led by former state supreme court justice Michael Gableman, has a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000.

Ronald Stadler, Vos' attorney, said in a court hearing Thursday not all the documents are actually related to the investigation, as attorneys used keyword searches to sort the messages.

"There is somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 emails that have been produced," Stadler observed. "There's a lot of duplicates, but it was done pursuant to agreed-upon search terms between the parties. So if it hit on it, it's been produced, and that's why there is the volume that there is."

Last month, Gableman released an interim report on the investigation, which contained essentially no new findings about the 2020 spring and fall elections.

The report and Gableman's accompanying call to decertify the November election, which is impossible, drew bipartisan criticism. The documents released this week haven't yet been made public, but likely will be soon.

American Oversight, which has filed other open-records lawsuits concerning the probe, was still seeking additional messages on Vos' phone which his attorneys say have been deleted. A digital forensics expert hired by Vos' attorney told the court Thursday obtaining the deleted texts and emails would be difficult if not impossible.

Valerie Bailey-Rihn, Dane County circuit judge, based on their testimony, barred further searches of Vos' or his associates' phones. She also raised concerns over Vos' personal privacy.

"And I don't see how you can separate his private messages from his public messages," Bailey-Rihn stated. "If, in fact, you could even recover deleted messages, which I think is doubtful."

The document dump comes the week after Bailey-Rihn held Vos and the Republican-controlled state Assembly in contempt of court in a separate open-records case brought by American Oversight.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Vos and the Assembly have about a week to turn over records requested in the suit before both begin incurring fines of $1,000 a day.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.
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